I recently attended the Twitter developer meetup, and one of the subjects that came up quite often was the question of how to get “old” media companies to understand social media. A couple of days after the meeting, I read this article from 1995, where the author predicts that no online database can ever replace your daily newspaper, electronic books will never catch on, and e-commerce is a joke. The article actually made me laugh out loud, but the confluence of the article and the questions raised at the developer meeting made me think.

True, it was 1995, and the internet was nothing like we have today. But what the author of that article lacked was vision. What else happened in 1995? Sun launched Java. The Yahoo! domain was created. RealAudio gave us audio streaming over our dial-up connections. People who were willing to look for the potential of this new technology found it, and many of them made a lot of money along the way.

Fast forward to 2010. Everybody has a web site. Most companies understand that commerce over the Internet is a viable business model. But social media is something new. Many companies, including media companies, are still struggling to understand how to fit social networking into their business. They are lacking the vision to see how to make this new technology, this new avenue of interacting with customers, fit in to their old ways of thinking.

Part of the problem is that social media is about community, more than marketing, and this is a change of thinking that is difficult for old media to embrace. Community implies an openness that many companies are not comfortable with. But this is a shift that will need to be made to make social media work for a company. Social media companies can make a big difference here by providing education, helping management and marketing teams understand how to use social media to create communities around their brands.

Another problem is that developer resources are required, and these resources are often stretched thin. Social media companies can make a big difference here by building tools and providing documentation to assist in rapid integration of social network features into a companies’ existing workflow and systems. This will also create an environment where companies that specialize in social media integration to thrive.

It will be interesting to see how social media companies tackle this challenge, and it is something that we, as developers, should be thinking about.